Director of Earthlife Africa-Johannesburg Makoma Lekalakala, and Eco-Justice Lead Liziwe McDaid from the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), have been awarded the international Goldman Environmental Prize at a ceremony in San Francisco last night. Makoma and Liziwe have been honoured with this highly esteemed prize for their 2017 nuclear court case triumph, alongside award recipients from five other continents.

SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis, expressed the organisation’s pride in Liziwe and Makoma, saying, ‘SAFCEI is immensely proud of Liz and Makoma, and the recognition they are receiving for their work on the nuclear deal. It was their tenacity and commitment to blowing the lid off the secret and corrupt nuclear energy deal – which would have bankrupted South Africa and set us back generations in terms of development.’

Local environmental activists awarded with Goldman Prize

When the South African government unlawfully attempted to secure copious amounts of nuclear power in deals with Russia, these two women took it upon themselves to stop the agreements dead in their tracks. Liziwe and Makoma fought courageously against an often undefeated former President Jacob Zuma and reaped the rewards thereof when the deal was declared unlawful. They worked  tirelessly and passionately with fellow citizens and NGOs against the secret nuclear deal with Russia, thereby restoring a sense of faith in justice in this country – even if just for a moment.

Liziwe McDaid and Makoma Lekalakala win Goldman Prize

According to the Daily Maverick, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation Susie Gelman said Liziwe and Makoma epitomised what the foundation stood for: courage, compassion, vision, collaboration and hard work in the name of environmental justice. And this is indeed evident in their statements about what triggered them to take on the clandestine nuclear deal.

Makoma’s unwavering anti-nuclear stance is premised on the protection of not only the environment, but people too. She says, ‘The nuclear deal was (and potentially still is) a major threat to the livelihood of South African citizens and our quality of life. There are other ways of generating energy, ways that are clean and affordable, and put the power in the hands of the people. It is important, for our sustainability, that we start thinking differently about how we satisfy our energy needs. It is not sensible to think that what used to work in the past, can still apply now, particularly since the evidence is overwhelming against nuclear technology and fossil fuels.’

Liziwe has been campaigning against nuclear energy for decades. Her reasons for continuously trying to draw the government’s attention towards alternative energy sources are based on the following observations: ‘There is so much we don’t know about the future impacts of nuclear waste, which continues to grow every year. Koeberg alone generates approximately thirty (30) tons of high-level waste per year – all stored at the plant. Furthermore, the Chernobyl disaster, which happened 39 years ago this week, and Fukushima, still continue to provide evidence of the enormous risks of nuclear.’

Established in 1989 by late civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the Goldman Environmental Prize is now the world’s largest award honouring grassroots environmental activists. This is therefore no trivial feat for these two environmental leaders who essentially saved South Africa.